While all this was happening, KK moved to the US to help get the operations set up on the enterprise side. Jani took on the task of putting together the technology team. It was settled that Ashok and I would divide common functions between the two of us. As we decided to start offering our services for the India geography I took up that task in addition to my responsibilities of people function, marketing and infrastructure building. Ashok was directly overseeing the quality, information systems and finance.
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But job number one was landing new business - both in the U.S. and in India. Though we were born in the boom time of the Internet, the streets had to be pounded and we needed some luck there. When you leave behind your corporate success and start some thing anew, you leave behind everything you stood for. However large the halo of the past may have been, it is removed faster than you think. That is a transition that takes many people off-guard. Fortunately, we had no qualms about it. We left behind the past and were ready to pound the pavements.
However, more than our brave attitude, what made the significant difference was the willingness of the first few customers who trusted us and gave us their business. Every new company that ultimately succeeds does so on the strength of a few such sponsors and no amount of business planning ever replaces their role. They appear from nowhere, give you business for no explainable reason and seldom claim a return on their disproportionate contribution. All great companies owe their existence to these early customers who often assume disproportionate risk to become the Patron Saint.
The first major breakthrough in the U.S. came from Lucent. A man named Rod Trombly knew Scott, Anjan, Kamran and Amit and had the fullest confidence and trust in them. No one else could articulate the architectural problem he was battling with as well as this team could and we got the job. What started as a $300,000 project grew to a million plus account. To Rod, it did not matter that we were less than fifty people, had a two-room office in which the furniture was yet to be assembled.
Equally unbelievable was how we won Avis. Joe made a direct call to newly appointed CIO Larry Kinder. In what must be one of the rarest of rare occasions, he took the call, liked the story, gave us an appointment and we were there – driving a requirement definition workshop for a dozen Avis executives who had differing views on what Avis.Com should be. That eventually led to more than $7 Million in business over three years and in the process, we completely re-architected Avis.Com. In 2002, the new Avis.Com accounted for 11% of their total car reservations. In 2003, that number keeps moving in the right direction. Intrigued by how a Fortune 500 customer chose a noname consulting company, a television show entitled Business-Now ran a four minute report on us on ABC's Channel 7.
While Avis was beginning to take shape in the US, one day, we received an unexpected visit from Chuck Johnson, Co-President of Franklin Templeton Investments and their CIO Allen Gula. Both were on a visit to India and were doing the big company routine when VG Siddhartha of Global Technology Ventures suggested that they meet MindTree as an example of the newer breed of IT services company. Both men agreed and when they did stop by, Chuck and Al were intrigued by our culture and went back to suggest to Richard Preece and Sandeep Bhatia in their IT Department that they give us a try. Richard and Sandeep were in the process of collapsing 36 huge but disparate applications into one and their vision was to make it fully available on the Internet so that Franklin Templeton could connect with its 10,000 customer service representatives and end users all over the world.
Sandeep, himself an ex-PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant keeps high standards for himself and for those who work for him. What followed from that point on was a long relationship and we built Franklin Templeton's global web site project. At its peak the Project had close to a hundred MindTree Minds working 24/7 from across two continents.
When Franklin Templeton gave us the assignment, they did not ask us if we knew the mutual fund industry. They were not worried about whether we would be around a year, two years, or three years. They had faith and trust in the people of MindTree - something that Sandeep talked to me about long after we completed the assignment.
In India, our first customer was Fabmart. VS Sudhakar, the aspiring Jeff Bezos of India was already up and running with Fabmart by the time we opened shop. His current service provider was not scaling and he handed over his site to us on a platter.
Then came Hindustan Lever – Unilever's India subsidiary. As we were getting started, Ashok walked in one day and declared, "We must do business with Levers." When Ashok says something, he means what he says. The same day, he wrote to Keki Dadiseth, the then Chairman of Hindustan Lever – who sent the mail to D.Sundaram, director finance. Sundaram was at that time putting together a team with the charter to e-enable Hindustan Lever as part of their millennial initiatives. Sundaram asked us to meet K. Ramesh who had just moved from their culinary business to steer this team. In Ramesh's Brookfield Office, when my colleague Puneet Jetli and I stood to present MindTree, we were acutely aware of how small and naked we were. What if Ramesh asked for case studies and customer references? What if he asked us to show ISO certification and process maturity?
Ramesh asked us none of these questions. He said he had read about the Making of MindTree in Business World and admired us for who we were. He did say that since we were industry veterans, he had some doubts on whether we would be able to roll up our sleeves and work in a hands-on manner. But he also said that the names behind MindTree were associated with unimpeachable integrity, and so, he would go with us. From what started as a one day engagement with their mid level managers to educate them on e-business basics, we grew to build a big business in e-integration, data warehousing and supply chain management in India, China, Japan, South East Asia and Australia.
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